Single use plastic rules needed to be toughened – report

The European Union has been told it has the chance to lead the world in the treatment of single use plastics but there are still significant gaps in its approach.

The call came as the Rethink Plastic alliance and the Break Free From Plastic movement released an annual assessment tracking the progress scored by EU countries in adopting national measures to phase out single-use plastic, in line with the obligations of the Single-Use Plastic Directive.

The report revealed that important progress has been made by the majority of EU countries, but significant steps are still expected from national authorities in terms of policy ambition as well as legislative enforcement. In light of the findings, European NGOs call on national governments and the European Commission to play their key role to curb once and for all plastic pollution coming from disposable items.

“The EU legislation to address single-use plastic pollution has the potential to be world leading. But this will only be possible if governments address the remaining gaps”, said Frédérique Mongodin, senior marine litter policy officer At Seas At Risk explained. “For instance, making awareness raising campaigns the responsibility of plastic producers is a mistake. The citizens of tomorrow should not only be able to drop their plastic litter in the right place, but also, and most of all, be informed about and have the option to choose alternatives to single-use. This cultural change cannot be achieved by producers due to an intrinsic conflict of interest.”

The report showed that top performers in 2021 (Greece, France, Sweden) were joined in 2022 by Luxembourg, Cyprus, Slovenia, Latvia, Denmark and Portugal. Some of these countries even showed higher ambition than what was required by the EU Directive, notably on measures to achieve consumption reduction.

Meanwhile only Finland and Poland are deemed to be behind the curve, with 5 Member States deemed to be still not showing sufficient  ambition (Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Czech Republic) or overlooking some of the key measures, such as the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Estonia, Romania, Hungary or Belgium.

Gaëlle Haut, EU affairs coordinator at Surfrider Europe Foundation said: “Member States not only have the responsibility to transpose the Directive but also, to make sure measures they take are implemented in time and enforced. Despite bans being one of the flagship measures introduced by the Directive, banned items could still be found on the EU market. With extended producer responsibility obligations on tobacco around the corner, Member States should also be urgently preparing the systems to be set”.

Across all member States, the report shows more efforts are needed on the enforcement of adopted bans, as banned items are still found on the market as a result of greenwashing strategies and stocks being sold off.

“On consumption reduction, it remains unclear how some countries will achieve this ambitious objective without setting targets, while countries that are investing in and promoting reuse options are those showing most potential for success,” it added.

The report also found that most EU countries did not set national awareness raising strategies and left it to plastic and packaging manufacturers to achieve awareness objectives. On Extended Producers’ responsibility, most countries are still a long way from complying with their obligations in time for 2023 and 2024 deadlines.

Larissa Copello, consumption and production campaigner at Zero Waste Europe added: “The obligation for producers to cover certain costs for a series of single-use plastics, through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Schemes, was a major step forward set by the SUP Directive. However, it seems to be the most troublesome measure with many countries lagging behind or with only partial implementation. The correct implementation of  EPR schemes is crucial to realise the ‘polluter pays’ principle and should be a priority to Member States, by guaranteeing that producers bear 100% of the clean-up costs for littered single-use plastic items.”